Tuesday Tunes 46: Winning

Three weeks ago I took my theme of Wheels from my football team’s recent performances, described by one pundit as ‘the wheels have fallen off.’ After two successive 4-0 wins I’m hopeful that those wheels are now back on the team bus, and have decided to do a counterpoint as this week’s theme. Readers, I give you: Winning.

Thinking about this, a number of songs with win/winning/winner in their title came to mind, as well as a couple of others that take this as their theme. Spoilt for choice, I managed to shrink them down to seven songs but couldn’t go beyond that, so here goes. The first is a longtime favourite of mine, from a singer-songwriter who has, I think, been largely underrated for much of his career:

That was the closing track on Chris Rea’s 1984 album Wired To The Moon, which reached #35 on the UK albums chart. Chris has had two #1 albums here, a #2, plus three more in the top ten, from a total of 25 album releases. Only three have had any US chart success, the best being his very first album, Whatever Happened To Benny Santini? which got to #49. With singles, 42 of his 72 records have reached the UK top 100, but only one, The Road To Hell, has got as high as #10. In the US, only 6 have made the top 100. I think you’d call that steady, rather than spectacular, and is why I think he has been underrated. To me, that is a real shame, as he has made some great albums. If you want to hear more, check out his Shamrock Diaries album, and especially the song Stainsby Girls – you won’t be disappointed.

In terms of chart success I’m going from one extreme to the other, with my next choice:

It may come as a surprise to see me include ABBA, but it isn’t the first time I’ve done so. Whilst my taste tends to veer away from the mainstream pop charts, there can be no denying the brilliance of their songwriting and performances, and this is no exception. It is a break up song, so is a little more downbeat than my reaction to my team winning a couple of games, but I just had to include it! What is there left for me to say about them, after all that has been written over the nearly forty years since they began? The basic facts are that this was from their Super Trouper album, which was released on 3 November 1980, and became the best selling album of 1980 in the UK – in eight weeks! The album was, of course, #1 here and in Germany, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. It also made the top ten in a further seven countries, and reached #17 in the US. This song was released ahead of the album, in July 1980, and was #1 in the UK and #8 in the US. It is, simply, perfect pop music.

Bryan Adams has a couple of songs with ‘win’ in their title. One of them, We’re Gonna Win, is much used in the sports world as a motivational song, and there are several versions on YouTube, including one by a sporting superstars band including John McEnroe and Damon Hill. It is the obvious choice for this post – so I went for the other one:

Call me perverse if you like, but of the two songs I prefer this one. As you can probably tell from it being an ‘audio only’ video, it is very much out of the Adams mainstream: as far as I can see it has only featured as a bonus track on the 30th anniversary re-release of his Reckless album – the one which made him a big star, reaching #1 in the US and his native Canada, and #7 here in the UK. If you’re in need of sporting motivation, there are always the videos for the other song I mentioned – maybe that’s what has been playing for the Spurs team before recent games, just to remind them of the objective of the game?

As well as the Chris Rea song that I began with, I also know and like another with Winning as its title:

This was a track on Carlos Santana’s twelfth album, Zebop, released in 1981, which peaked at #9 in the US and #33 here in the UK. It was also a #17 single in the US. The song was written by Russ Ballard, who you may know from his days in the band Argent. The lead vocal is by a Scottish singer/guitarist/drummer by the name of Alex Ligertwood, who has many appearances on others’ records to his credit but doesn’t appear to have released anything under his own name. He was vocalist for Santana in five different spells between 1979 and 1994, so Carlos obviously rated him a lot to keep inviting him back!

I know of three songs with You Win Again as their title, so the problem was which one to choose. I quickly discounted the Bee Gees (of course), and another is by Hank Williams. There are so many cover versions of that song, by a Who’s Who of country artists, and the choice was very hard. So what did I do? I avoided that decision and went for the third song instead:

As you may have noticed if you’ve seen any of my posts before, I am a huge fan of Mary Chapin Carpenter, so this really wasn’t a difficult choice to make, if I’m being honest. This was a track on MCC’s third album, Shooting Straight In The Dark, which reached #70 on the main US albums chart, and #11 on the country chart, but didn’t do anything here. This was the first single released from the album, and it got to #16 on the US country singles chart. Sadly, it was to be a further couple of years before the British record-buying public noticed her, but her albums have since then consistently achieved respectable appearances in our album charts, though she has only ever reached our top 100 singles twice. She deservedly has a loyal following here, though: during the pandemic she has been releasing a video each week from her home, and the comments on these show that her appeal stretches far beyond her homeland.

The two final songs this week don’t have any version of the word ‘win’ in their title, but are nevertheless very appropriate for inclusion. This is about someone who never gave up, even when everything seemed to be against him, and is to my mind one of the best songs ever written:

A magical performance of a truly wonderful song. You get a sense from that of how much it means to both of them, from the facial expressions and the lovely moment when Art puts a comforting hand on Paul’s back. This was a track on the classic album Bridge Over Troubled Water, which was released in January 1970. It was #1 in 11 countries, including both the US and the UK, and was the bestselling album of 1970 in both countries too. The song was released as a single in March 1969, whilst they were recording further tracks for the album, and reached #7 in the US and #6 here, as well as making the top ten in ten other countries. It has been covered many times, but no one has ever got close to the original – how could they?

This week’s final song has a message for us all, whether that be in a sporting context or in the wider scope of life in general:

This was a track on Journey’s seventh album, Escape, released in July 1981. It was a US #1 that year and made #32 here in the UK in 1982. This was also a hit single in the US, where it got to #9, but only made #62 here on its original release. It has, however, had an extended lifespan here, as it has also been a chart single in 2007 (#97), 2008 (#93), 2009 (#71), 2010 (#6, after a copy by the Glee cast was a hit), 2011 (#74), 2012 (#88), and 2013 (#44). Odd, or what? I think the reason I’m including it is fairly apparent, though: if we don’t have belief in ourself, what chance do we have at success? Unless, of course, we are a certain ex-President who has so much misplaced self-belief that he can’t avoid ‘winning,’ as he sees it.

Spurs are playing again on Thursday. Is a third successive win too much to hope for? Come on, Clive, don’t stop believing…

That’s all for this extended edition of Tunes. Stay strong, keep believing, and we will get through everything that life is throwing at us right now. Take care.

Songs For A New Year

On the first day of a new year, should we be looking back or ahead? I think for most of us last year was one to forget, and we will be feeling its effects for a long time to come. But I’m not getting into that just yet: plenty of time for a rant in the days and weeks to come!  I’m preparing my annual review of what happened on my blog in the past twelve months, but in the meantime I’m marking New Year’s Day with some music to brighten things up, as I have done several times in the past. All but one of today’s songs have appeared in recent years but I like them all, and think they’re worth a reprise. It’s a packed programme, so settle down with a brew and some snacks…

I included this first one some years ago, but not recently. If you know just one of these songs, I’m guessing it will be this one. It is well-known and an obvious choice: it isn’t that imagination has deserted me, just that I happen to like it! To begin with, then, here are ABBA:

That was released on the album Super Trouper in November 1980, just in time for me to buy it for my now ex-wife at Christmas. I wouldn’t have claimed to be an ABBA fan – that was her job – but I have to admit that they made some fine records. The album reached #1 in the UK, Sweden, and three other countries, and made the top ten in another seven. It got as high as #17 in the US where, for some reason, the band were never as successful as elsewhere, though chart placings like that still meant massive sales. It was eventually released as a single, but not until 1999 as a trailer for a compilation album, and only reached #34 in their native Sweden.

My next choice is a song that supports the view that the New Year is a time both to reflect on what has been and to look ahead to what is coming. This is one of my favourite ‘reflective’ songs, and has an accompanying video which fits that feeling perfectly. Counting Crows have long been a favourite band of mine, since their first album way back in 1993. This song is from their second album, Recovering The Satellites. The album was a US #1 and made #4 here in the UK. As a single, this one peaked at #6 on the US chart and #62 in the UK. It includes what is probably Courtney Cox’s best acting performance ever (even better than when she danced with Bruce Springsteen 😉):

I think those opening lyrics speak for us all, now more than ever:

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

I’ve long felt that Gretchen Peters is one of the best singer-songwriters around. She has made some wonderful albums of her own, and is a great live performer, but if her name is known to you it is probably as the writer of songs which have been single hits or album tracks for others: for example, there is Independence Day, a #1 for both Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood, or songs for the likes of Shania Twain (Dance With The One That Brought You), Trisha Yearwood (On A Bus To St Cloud), Neil Diamond (Talking Optimist Blues) and Faith Hill (The Secret Of Life). She has also written and performed quite a few with Bryan Adams. This is another of hers which is better known as a cover, in this case by the country band Alabama, and it has also been recorded by the country singer, Barbara Mandrell. Gretchen sang harmony vocals on Alabama’s version, which was only ever a B-side and an album track and, as far as I know, she has never recorded the song – New Year’s Eve 1999 – herself. I was going to include the Alabama version when, quite by chance last year, I came across another one, by a band who were totally unknown to me: Prescott-Brown. Apparently they were a Canadian country band who released two albums, in 1992 and 1994. Their version of the song is on the second of those albums, which made #10 in the Canadian country albums chart. I much prefer it to the Alabama effort, as Tracey Brown has an amazingly warm voice. I got a ‘like’ on Twitter from Gretchen when I posted this one last year, so I guess she enjoyed it too! I’m rather glad that I found it:

Another band of which you probably haven’t heard, but one to which I feel a connection, is The Rescues, a US indie rock band. I was part of the crowdfunding effort which became their 2013 album Blah Blah Love And War, from which this song comes, and band member Kyler England still follows me on Twitter (probably due to inertia more than anything else!). This is another of those ‘hoping for better’ songs, and the video is hilarious:

As far as I know, the band has never had any kind of chart success anywhere: I think that’s a real shame, but they do write some superb songs. A mention too, for Chet Dixon, who is so good in that video. He is listed on the IMDB as an actor, including an appearance in Cold Mountain, a long way down the list of credits. On this evidence I think he deserves better!

My next selection is another that I have included before, from another of my favourite singer-songwriters: the incomparable Mary Chapin Carpenter, who was featured in my Advent Calendar selections, on Christmas Day itself. There is a video of MCC performing this song live, in which she explains its background: it is based on a dream about a meeting with a friend, which she noted down and turned into the most beautiful song. I’m giving you the ‘official’ video from her record company, which has slightly clearer audio than the live version. As she says,

‘We dwell on possibility on New Year’s Day’

It’s another upbeat tune next. Semisonic were one of those bands who never got the success I felt they deserved. Their 1998 album Feeling Strangely Fine was a little gem, and produced three hit singles in the UK, of which this wasn’t one (!):

In chart terms the album did better here than in the US: #16 as against #43. But given the relative sizes of the countries the sales figures are a little different: they are certified at over 350,000 here, but over 1m in the US!

The song which I imagine most people associate with New Year’s Eve is Auld Lang Syne. There are countless versions of this, but none are quite as lovely as the one by Mindy Smith, who you may remember from my Advent Calendar on Christmas Eve. For the video to accompany her version of the song she asked fans to send her photos of those they loved or had lost, or maybe both. The resulting collage is absolutely wonderful, and is made even better if you watch it on YouTube and see the heartfelt comments from people whose photos were featured. This really does capture the end of year reflective mood so very well:

Last year, when I was posting these each day on Twitter, Mindy sent me a ‘thank you’ tweet for this, which was kind of her.

My final song in the regular part of my New Year ‘concert’ isn’t a New Year song. It was released on 22 December, and the reason I’m including it is for its message of hope, that we will again find joy in life after all the horrors that 2020 threw at us, both in pandemic and political terms:

You probably haven’t heard of The O’Reillys and Paddyhats before, but I found their music a couple of years ago and absolutely love them. The fact that their fiddle player, Mia, is gorgeous is purely a bonus, I assure you. As their name suggests, the band is from, er, Germany. My inclusion of their compatriot Patty Gurdy in my post Advent Calendar: Day 21 was well-received, so I thought I’d give you another from there. If ever there was a song to say what we are all probably hoping for right now, I think this may well be it.

Thank you, you’re too kind! As is my usual custom, my encore is a reminder of my childhood. One of my earliest memories of New Year’s Day is the televised concert of Strauss family music from Vienna, which my late Mum loved and we watched with her, along with the ski jumping from Garmisch-Partenkirchen which followed it. These were both rare treats in the late 1950s/early 1960s, when daytime TV was still a novelty and before wall to wall TV took over. The closing delight of the concert was always the final encore, the Radetzky March, during which the conductor would turn to the audience and conduct their hand-clapping. This has always seemed to me to be the epitome of the joy and hopefulness that the start of a new year can bring, and I think it is suitable way to bring this compilation of New Year music to a close. There are many versions of this on YouTube and I have shared some before. This time, I’m giving you the 2018 version, conducted by Riccardo Muti, who seems to have suffered a bit of a botox attack. The music is still fantastic, though:

I’m now off to do my usual 1 January thing and take a TV trip to Vienna, though I’m wondering how it will be in these pandemic days. Visions of a socially distanced orchestra sitting 2m apart from each other, their conductor up in the balcony, and playing to an empty theatre, come to mind: I hope I’m wrong! I’ll be back with the Tuesday Tunes series next week, and there will be my annual review to come soon too. But for today, all that remains is for me to say that I hope 2021 is a better year for all of us and to wish you all a very